Field of 31 candidates emerges in Alaska’s November U.S. House race to fill two-year term
By Iris Samuels
By this week’s election filing deadline, 31 candidates had registered to run for a full two-year term as Alaska’s lone U.S. House representative.
While that’s fewer than the 48 hopefuls running in the earlier special election, it still represents a large field, spurred in part by a change to Alaska’s election laws that did away with partisan primaries.
The special election — with its June 11 primary voting deadline and Aug. 16 general election — will determine who will carry out the final four months of the term previously held by Rep. Don Young, who died unexpectedly in March.
The regularly scheduled November election, which will also have its primary on Aug. 16, will determine who will fill the seat for the two-year term beginning in January 2023.
Half of the 48 candidates running for the special election aren’t running in the later race. And seven new candidates — who did not file for the special election — are running for the two-year term.
Among the 24 special election candidates not in the running for the two-year term are Santa Claus, a nonpartisan progressive candidate who has aligned himself with Sen. Bernie Sanders; Andrew Halcro, a former state legislator, businessman and gubernatorial candidate running as a moderate independent; and Emil Notti, the 89-year-old Democrat who lost his last congressional bid against Young in 1973.
Halcro has touted himself from the launch of his campaign as someone who could fill the seat until a full term candidate is elected, saving others from having to spend the remainder of Young’s term campaigning.
“The campaign trail is really going to demand 100% of your time. There is no way you are going to be able to do this job from the middle of August to the first week of November without being on the campaign trail in Alaska every day,” Halcro said in a phone interview this week. “My candidacy is basically saying, ‘Look, I’m more than qualified.’ During the four months I’ll be there, I’ll focus on Alaska issues, taking advantage of those opportunities that come up.”
Claus, the 75-year-old mayor pro tem of North Pole, has also said he is only interested in the short-term position. He did briefly consider filing for the two-year term after his low-budget campaign — on which Claus has spent less than $400 — began garnering attention on social media. Ultimately, he decided against it.
Many of the prominent candidates for the seat are running for both the special election and the regular November election, and some are touting the value of electing the same person in both races. That would give Alaska’s lone representative in the U.S. House four additional months of seniority over the freshman lawmakers elected in November, they say, which could ultimately bring benefits like committee chairmanships and better office space.
“When you’re from a state that only has one congressman, it’s such a critical choice, and you have to pick somebody who you know will want to go back because seniority really just is so important,” said Mary Peltola, a Democrat running in both the special and general elections. “It would be advantageous to win both, because then you’ll have that four-month edge, and that four months more seniority than the rest of the freshman class.”
Young’s decades-long tenure in the U.S. House earned him the title of dean of the House, and his 49 years as a sitting representative amounted to the longest stretch of time that any Republican had served in Congress. But such long terms in Congress are becoming increasingly rare, with the average term in the U.S. House coming just short of nine years. That makes the argument in favor of a four-month seniority edge a little less credible, Halcro said.
“I think it’s highly unlikely we’re going to have a 25-term congressman again,” said Halcro. “So I don’t buy it.”
Yet some candidates have said that not advancing in the special election might lead them to reconsider their bid in the November general election.
“It certainly is an issue that we’ll have to really grapple with if we don’t place in the final four in June,” Democratic candidate Christopher Constant said in an April interview. “That will be an open question.”
Ballots in the all-mail special primary election are due by June 11. The top four vote getters in the primary will advance to the ranked-choice general election in August. The results of that election are expected to be certified in September, leaving the victor just over four months before the winner of the November election is sworn in.
Voters are encouraged to deliver their ballots in advance of the June 11 deadline for the all-mail special primary. In some regions, voters can also drop off their ballot or cast their ballot in person.
The U.S. Postal Service recommends that those mailing their ballots should drop them off “at least a week before the deadline,” according to a statement from USPS spokesperson James Boxrud. For the upcoming election, that would be no later than Saturday, June 4.
As of Wednesday afternoon, over 96,000 votes had been cast, for a 19% turnout rate, with more than a week to go before the voting deadline.
The candidates who filed to run in the general election for U.S. House include: Jay R. Armstrong (Republican); Nick Begich III (Republican); Gregg B. Brelsford (undeclared); Chris Bye (Libertarian); John B. Coghill Jr. (Republican); Christopher S. Constant (Democrat); Lady Donna Dutchess (nonpartisan); Al Gross (nonpartisan); Ted Heintz (nonpartisan); William “Bill” D. Hibler III (nonpartisan); David Hughes (undeclared); Davis L. LeBlanc Jr. (undeclared); Jeff B. Lowenfels (nonpartisan); Robert “Bob” Lyons (Republican); Mikel E. Melander (Republican); Sherry M. Mettler (undeclared); Mike Milligan (Democrat); J.R. Myers (Libertarian); Robert Ornelas (American Independent Party); Sarah Palin (Republican); Silvio E. Pellegrini (undeclared); Mary S. Peltola (Democrat); Andrew H. Phelps (nonpartisan); Randy Purham (Republican); Joshua C. Revak (Republican); Brad Snowden (Republican); Sherry A. Strizak (undeclared); Tara M. Sweeney (Republican); Denise A. Williams (Republican); Tremayne Wilson (nonpartisan); and Adam Wool (Democrat).